Summary: One brother has gone astray, the other two have come to bring him home.
Written for the 2019 Chaps and Spurs. Use the following words (Health, Prosperity, Polka dots, Lead and Underwear) in the story.
Rating – G, Word Count – 1015
A Brother Lost
Mud and water dripped from every surface as the two soaked riders nudged their horses up the twisted road. Lightning flashed just long enough to reveal the line shack ahead. Reining their mounts to a stop, the brothers shared silent communication. A familiar paint horse was under the lean-to and a pale light shown through the single window. Dismounting, the riders quickly cared for their horses, full of worry over what they’d find inside the shack.
At the door, both men took a deep breath.
“Yeah, might as well get it over with.”
Hoss squeezed the latch and pushed the door open, letting Adam enter first. Neither was prepared for what they saw.
Clothes were thrown over every surface, a weak fire burned under a blackened pot, the contents of which Hoss confirmed with a wrinkled nose to be hazardous to anyone’s health. The lamp barely had enough oil remaining to keep burning. Coming to his senses first, Adam grabbed the lamp and held it high looking for the one thing that mattered most, and there it, or rather he, was, laid out on the only cot in a dark corner of the shack.
Hoss was closer and made it there first. He pulled back the wool blanket to check the condition of his missing brother.
“Adam, these must be all Joe’s clothes. He ain’t wearin’ nothin’ but his underwear an’ socks. What the heck happened to him?”
“From the looks of things he’s been like this for at least a day. Is he injured Hoss?”
“Not from what I can tell.” Hoss felt all over his unconscious brother without getting even the slightest rise out of him.
“Well we better get ourselves dry, and try to find some more wood and something to cook in. Maybe the smell of some fresh food will get him moving.”
After finding some dry wood near the horses, Hoss cleaned up the room while Adam worked on a meal for them. He’d found another pot and made some stew from their leftover rations. A glance over his shoulder confirmed that Joe had not moved at all.
“Hey Adam, is this what I think it is?” Hoss handed over a locket and a flask. Adam looked at the photo and sniffed the flask. He sighed deeply looking back at his brother.
“Yeah, it is Hoss. It’s Joe’s locket from Marie, and this flask was full of Pulque.”
“So little brother did ride off with Clay, like Pa said. But where’s Clay now?”
Adam shrugged, set the items aside and headed outside. Hoss knew his older brother was fearful of Joe traveling with Clay, and all this proved it out. Clay was no good to anybody but himself.
The rain abated during the night as the brothers slept. The next morning Hoss tended the horses and scoured the area for any type of food. In the meantime Adam worked to get Joe to awaken. He rubbed his arms and legs, shook him, even washed him down with cold water from the creek. That last one did the trick as Joe finally began to mumble and feebly push his brother’s hands away.
“Come on Joe, wake up. We have to talk and then get you home. Pa’s been worried sick for the last week about you.”
As Adam’s soft voice drifted through Joe’s foggy mind, he began to realize where he was and what had happened. Pale green eyes finally met hazel ones then looked away in anger and shame.
“Clay’s gone, ain’t he?” Joe didn’t have to ask, he knew. “Leave me here Adam. I got….nothin’ to go home….to but a lec-ture from….Pa.” Joe rolled over to face the wall. Adam turned when Hoss entered and stood abruptly at the sight of his brother.
“What the heck happened to you?”
“Dang fool rain and mud. I was gettin’ some water and saw this sittin’ down the creek aways. Went to reach fer it an’ fell into a mud hole. Got off what I could afore comin’ in here.”
Before Adam could move or respond, a giggle reverberated from the cot. It got louder and faster. “Hoss…what you doin’ wearin’ a polka dot shirt? It looks like somethin’ Bessie Sue would wear. Is she here too? Say those aren’t kiss marks all over your face are they? Hoo-wee, Pa’s gonna be might mad about you smooching with a gal way up here.”
Dumbstruck, Hoss gaped at Adam. “Yeah, he’s awake and stone drunk. That jug you found in the creek confirms it, Clay and–”
“Pulque!!” The brothers spoke in unison.
Joe continued to giggle as Hoss pulled his muddy clothes off. “I keep tellin’ ya Joe, it’s mud, not polka dots an’ kisses. You ain’t got your head screwed on straight right now so just keep quiet will ya?”
Adam had made coffee and was pumping his brother full of it. Once some of the effects of the pulque began to wear off, Joe slowly came to his senses. It was a rough day as he went from giddiness to sorrow to fighting a splitting headache to losing what food and coffee he’d ingested. By nightfall all three brothers sat by the fire, sullen and still.
Joe, finally dressed but still feeling sick, began to talk into the gloomy night. “He promised a good life, lots of fun, money and girls. All I wanted was to be with him, get to know him and convince him to come home with me.” Joe hiccoughed and pulled the blankets tighter around his shoulders.
Adam’s soft baritone voice was full of compassion and sympathy. “You know Joe, a life like that doesn’t lead to any kind of prosperity.”
Joe planted his chin on his folded arms. “Yeah, I know.” He discreetly rubbed at his nose. “I was just hopin’, is all…well, you know….”
For a few moments the cracking fire was the only sound in the little shack. Hoss shared a look with Adam as he rested an arm across Joe’s hunched back. “Yeah, little brother, we know.”